Destitute Non-believer by Sunil Gangopadhyay

Sunil Gangopadhyay was an Indian author who wrote in my native Bengali. Born in Bangladesh in 1934, he passed away on October 23rd 2012. He studied in Calcutta and was awarded his Master’s degree in Bengali from the University of Calcutta in 1954.

He was the founder editor of Krittibas, a seminal poetry magazine that became a platform for a new generation of poets experimenting with many new forms in poetic themes, rhythms, and words. Later he started writing for various publications.

He became friends with the beat poet Allen Ginsberg when Ginsberg visited India and was mentioned by Ginsberg in his poem about the Bangladesh War, September on Jessore Road.

Author of well over 200 books, Sunil was a prolific writer who declared poetry to be his “first love”. His Nikhilesh and Neera series of poems have been extremely popular.

As in poetry, Sunil was known for his unique style in prose. His first novel was ‘Atmaprakash’ and it was also the first time for a debut novel to be published in the prestigious Bengali literary magazine- ‘Desh’ (1965). It was critically acclaimed but attracted some attention for its aggressive and ‘obscene’ style. The novel was inspired by ‘ On the road’ by Jack Kerouac, the beat generation writer. Arjun, Pratidwandi (later filmed by Satyajit Ray as The Adversary), Aranyer Din-Raatri (The Days and Nights of the Forest, also a Satyajit Ray film), Ekaa ebong Koyekjon are some of his well known works of fiction. His historical fiction Sei Somoy (translated into English by Aruna Chakravorty as Those Days) received the Indian Sahitya Akademi award in 1985. Sei Somoy continues to be on the best sellers list more than two decades after its first publication. The same is true for Pratham Alo (also translated recently by Aruna Chakravorty as First Light), another best selling historical fiction and Purbo-Paschim, a realistic novel on the Partition and its aftermath as seen through the eyes of three generations of Bengalis in West Bengal, Bangladesh and elsewhere. He won various awards for his work across many genres including travelogues, children’s fiction, short stories, features, and essays. He used various nom-de-plumes such as Nil Lohit, Sanatan Pathak, and Nil Upadhyay.

I have translated a number of his works, both poems and prose. They are on my other blog at:

This poem is called Shorbohara Awbishwashi or Destitute Non-believer


সর্বহারা অবিশ্বাসী- সুনীল গঙ্গোপাধ্যায়

আমার ঘনিষ্ঠ বন্ধুর স্ত্রী, বেশ সেজেগুজে এসেছে
কিন্তু আমাদের সঙ্গে খেতে বসবে না
আজ তার নীলষষ্ঠী
যৌবন বয়েসে এই নিয়ে কত না চটুল রঙ্গ করতাম
এখন শুধু একটা পাতলা হাসি
অন্যের বিশ্বাসে নাকি আঘাত দিতে নেই
আর এক বন্ধু, যে প্রথম আমায় ছাত্র রাজনীতিতে টেনেছিল
তার আঙুলে দেখি একটা নতুন পাথর-বসানো আংটি
আমার কুঞ্চিত ভুরু দেখে সে
দুর্বল গলায় বলল
শরীরটা ভালো যাচ্ছে না,
তাই শাশুড়ি এটা পরতে বললেন, মুনস্টোন,
না বলা যায় না।
আমার মনে হল, এ যেন আমারই নিজস্ব পরাজয়!
শ্রদ্ধেয় অধ্যাপকের বাড়ি, মাঝে মাঝে তাঁর আলাপচারি শুনতে
এখনও কত কিছু শেখার আছে
আজই প্রথম দেখলাম, তাঁর দরজায় পেছনে দিকে
গণেশের মূর্তি আটকানো
প্রশ্ন করিনি, তিনি নিজেই জানালেন,
দক্ষিণ ভারত থেকে ছেলে এনেছে, কী দারুণ কাজ না?
সুন্দর মূর্তির স্থান শো-কেসের বদলে দরজার ওপরে কেন
বলিনি সে কথা, সেই ফক্কুড়ির বয়েস আর নেই
বয়েস হয়েছে তাই হেরে যাচ্ছি, অনবরত হেরে যাচ্ছি
অন্যের বিশ্বাসে আঘাত দিতে নেই, অন্যের বিশ্বাসে আঘাত দিতে নেই
চতুর্দিকে এত বিশ্বাস, দিনদিন বেড়ে যাচ্ছে কত রকম বিশ্বাস
যে গেরুয়াবাদী ঠিক করেছে, পরধর্মের শিশুর রক্ত
গড়াবে মাটিতে, চাটবে কুকুরে
সেটাও তার দৃঢ় বিশ্বাস
ধর্মের যে ধ্বজাধারী মনে করে, মেয়েরা গান গাইলে গলার নলি
কেটে দেওয়া হবে
টেনিস খেলতে চাইলেও পরতে হবে বোরখা
সেটাও তার দৃঢ় বিশ্বাস
যে পেটে বোমা বেঁধে যাচ্ছে ধ্বংসের দিকে
যে পেশি ফুলিয়ে, দেঁতো হাসি হেসে
পদানত করতে চাইছে গোটা বিশ্বকে
এরা সবাইতো বিশ্বাসীর দল
সবাই বিশ্বাসী, বিশ্বাসী, বিশ্বাসী …
এক-একবার ভাঙা গলায় বলতে ইচ্ছে করে
অবিশ্বাসীর দল জাগো
দুনিয়ার সর্বহারা অবিশ্বাসীরা এক হও!

Destitute non-believers

A close friend’s wife, she has dressed really well
Yet she will not sit down to eat with us
Today she fasts for a religious festival, Neel Shashthi
What juicy jokes I used to crack when we were all young
Now I merely give a slight smile
Apparently one must not make fun of another’s beliefs
Another friend, the first one to introduce me to student politics
A new astrological gemstone in a ring on his finger
He looks at my frown and
Says weakly
I have not been well,
My mother-in-law gave me this, a moonstone,
One cannot say no.
I felt this was my own defeat!
A respected professor, to listen to him talk
There is still so much to learn
For the first time, I see behind his door
A Ganesha fixed high
I did not have to ask, he himself informs,
My son got it from South India, isn’t the work great?
Then why not a fitting space in the cabinet instead of above the door
I did not ask, I am not that querulous age any more
I am old and so I cede, I lose again and again
One must not hurt another’s belief, one must not hurt another’s belief
So much belief all around, each day they grow in numbers
The saffron wearer who has decided that the blood of children of another faith
Will flow in gutters, to be licked at by dogs
This is his steadfast belief
And the zealot who thinks that women who sing deserve
to have their throats cut
That even tennis must be played in burqas
That too is another of his firm beliefs
The one who straps a bomb to his belly and walks towards destruction
The one who flexes his muscles, smiles broadly
Wanting to crush the entire world
They are all believers
They all believe, believe, believe….
Sometimes I really feel like saying in a cracked voice
Wake up, you non-believers
Unite, the destitute non-believers of this world!

Sunil Gangopadhyay
(Translation, mine)

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